Soon [“Live free or die.”] may prevail in schooling as well, as lawmakers decide whether to create a universal system of education savings accounts and a conservative new governor works aggressively to replace the state’s education leadership with ideological allies from outside the policy world.
If new legislation passes, New Hampshire will become just the third state, after Nevada and Arizona, to allocate funds for schooling directly to parents, allowing them to spend it on the institution — including private academies and home schools — they choose….
Although most state and district ESA initiatives are limited to low-income students and students with disabilities, New Hampshire’s program would be open to all.
That makes it a pioneer of sorts. Nevada authorized statewide ESAs a few years ago, but it has stumbled in state courts around funding issues; Arizona’s expansion of an existing program will likely make it the first ESA system in the country open to every family (though it includes caps on annual growth)….
….Lou D’Allesandro….laments what he sees as “a sharp deviation” from “Warren Rudman Republicanism” — after the state’s former moderate senator — by conservative and libertarian Republicans, who want to undermine traditional schools.
“I think that it diminishes public education,” said D’Allesandro. “When you take dollars out of public education rather than making public education better, you dilute it, and that’s a problem.”….
Within weeks of his inauguration, Sununu championed choice publicly…. He also nominated for state education commissioner the little-known conservative businessman Frank Edelblut, who won confirmation in February after weeks of contentious hearings centered on his lack of any education experience.
Some doubt that the push for ESAs reflects a genuine groundswell in the state for private school choice, especially because New Hampshire has generally excellent public schools.
“There are probably isolated examples where a parent felt like they didn’t have an option, but I think those are not typical,” said State Board of Education Chairman Tom Raffio, a Democratic appointee. “In general, I haven’t seen instances where someone felt that they would have been better off using a voucher to send [their child] to another school. You could probably interview 20 parents who would be in favor of giving themselves more choice, but there hasn’t been overwhelming demand, at least from where I sit.”….
With ESAs gaining publicity under the leadership of President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the fight in New Hampshire has taken on national significance. Within the state, it will be up to elected officials to determine what it means to “live free” — and whether that includes declaring independence from public schools.
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